3d printing plastic poverty



3D Printing Gratitude: Plastic & Poverty


3D printing is perhaps the most common form of rapid prototyping services. With the ability to print layer over layer in order to formulate new items, 3D printing is now being proposed to help tackle plastic waste and poverty in rural areas of India and elsewhere globally.


Recently, Sidhant Pai an environmental engineer and local resident from Pune, India, visited one of his local garbage dumps in Pune. Pai was astonished at the volume, amount and the size of the garbage that was being handled of by the locals. There are huge black crows overhead, pigs lurking about and overwhelming stenches along with a host of garbage pickers picking up plastics bottles and stacking them in their sacks.


Sadly, we live in a world where around fifteen million people worldwide are forced to make a living by picking up waste. These individuals earn hardly anything, many earning as little a dollar or less per day! According to engineer Pai, one of the main problems is the fact that workers merely get a hold of a small portion of the worth for the waste that they gather, separate and carry to dealers of scrap who pay them.


Sidhant Pai teamed with his mother and father founded Protoprint in 2012, a social enterprise which stands as one of the organizations trying to tackle the concerns of unfortunate conditions that exist for waste collectors and pollution that results from plastic waste. Pai and his parent’s goal was to add worth to the waste that was being collected by the pickers.

Video About Protoprint

Considering the fact that over 300m tons of material that is plastic is being manufactured worldwide every year and most of this piles up in the water or oceans, the Pais wanted to make good use of plastic. After they experimented with a range of products, Protoprint finally decided to make the ink or plastic filament for 3D printers using the plastic collected from the garbage dump. This helped to add great worth to the plastic being collected from the dump while still keeping it easy to manufacture.


india poverty plastic pick up


Protoprint decided to partner up with a Pune-based company called SWaCH that is exclusively headed by waste collectors. As a team they have arranged for a low-cost ink or filament construction facility to be set up at a resident garbage dump located in Pune led by waste collectors from SWaCH to change plastic waste, the type used for making plastic bottles, into 3D printing filament that will ultimately be sold to interested Indian or 3D printing companies worldwide.


According to Pai, after they add in the costs of production and the numerous other expenditures involved, they still have 6 to 8 times more per kilogram of the filament. Most of the plastic that is used in the market is made from virgin plastic. The promotion of filament is growing rapidly. In fact, the market for filament is projected to grow at a remarkable 266% in the upcoming 5 years alone!


ReFlow, which is a social enterprise based in Amsterdam works with one of TechforTrade’s printing associates called STICLab, located in Tanzania, on a preliminary venture in Dar es Salaam. Co-founder Jasper Middendorp equates the prospective of 3D printing to the expansion of solar and mobile banking in Africa, two things which prospered because infrastructure there was fragmented. Middendorp mentioned how Tanzania is highly dependent on imports and has very few production outlets that it relies on locally.


With the help of 3D printing production becomes decentralized without the need for a huge expense or a great amount of expert knowledge. He stated that this benefit from rapid prototyping allows for countries to become more and more self sufficient rather than depending on imported products that may not fit their budget and may not be suitable with their local framework.




According to Willam Hoyle who is the CEO for TechforTrade, a British charity, most of the filament being produced is expensive due to the trade costs involved. TechforTrade is working to encourage and regulate an ethical manner for filament to be prepared from the plastic that is gathered by garbage pickers. According to Hoyle, ethical filament can be bought for cheaper compared to the commercially sold filament. This is because waste plastic stands as a free resource and the cost of production is far lower in developing countries compared to the prices in developed countries.


Pai feels that the features of the filament that is made from recycled waste plastic stands as a challenge for the entire 3D printing industry. Protoprint’s pilot division is presently formulating filament but it is not ready to sell the filament to the market as there are difficulties related with warping.


Backed by a government grant, the company is now working with a group of senior polymer scientists, who are from the National Chemical Laboratory, in order to come up with an extract for the filament that will help to prevent the warping issue. Protoprint presently has around 4,000kg of pre-orders, mainly from small and medium sized distributors that are based in Germany, the UK, the US and India considering sampling and testing the filament. Before they start selling commercially, Protoprint hopes to improve their filament quality.


However, Thomas Birthnell who is a lecturer at the University of Wollongong states that quality is not necessarily an impossible issue in this matter as most of the recycled filament is intended for the open market for low-key items. Even though they may not look dazzling, they are still working items that can be used for advancement frameworks.


According to a teacher and maintainable design strategy advisor at Minneapolis College of Art and Design, Jeremy Faludi, the greatest potential that rapid prototyping services such as 3D printing offers for the developing world is not the product itself. Rather, it is the actual means that is being put into the hands of the local residents as a result of rapid prototyping. This is one of the greatest advancements that the developing world has experienced. It’s shifting world dynamics.


For more on this story, please visit – Generating Value from Waste.


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